An Interview with Prof. Umberto Farri
In 1968, Prof. Umberto Farri (1928-2006) organized the first Univ Forum in Rome, a task he continued doing right up to his death. In 1966, together with other university professors and administrators, Prof Farri founded the Istituto per la Cooperazione Universitaria (ICU), in which he served as General Secretary until 1996, and as President until 2006, the year he died. Throughout his career, he received numerous accolades. Among the many awards he received are a doctor honoris causa from the University of Piura’s School of Education (Peru, 1994), the title of honorary citizen of Canton (China, 1996), and the knighthood of Work by the President of Italy (2004).
Scores of students from all over the world learned from Prof. Farri that it is a worthwhile ideal to devote one’s life to serve society through one’s job or studies, beginning with those who are most in need. Throughout his life, he generously helped lots of different people. Many of them, upon learning that Prof. Farri had passed away, expressed their debt of gratitude toward him and were present at the funeral.
What is, in synthesis, the objective and the origin of Univ Forum?
The Univ meetings that are promoted by the Institute For University Cooperation began in 1968 to offer positive solutions to the growing student protest. The dissatisfaction of university students and professors who were faced with the unforeseen and consistent increase in the student population, the crisis of university structures and above all the demand for a different relationship between professors and students constituted an objective reality, which had its roots in the social transformations taking place in the entire world at the beginning of the 70’s. To study the problems, to open a dialogue between the different parts of the university community, to think not only about rights but also, and in the first place, how to assume one’s own responsibilities, turned out to be much more attractive and “revolutionary” than any form of protest. This constituted the success of the Univ Forum that has lasted until today, year after year.
What does participating in Univ in Rome have to offer to a university student?
A powerful experience and a significant intellectual awakening. To come out of one’s own world and to be able to confront one’s problems with those of others, with those of people coming from different realities, often causes a shock with positive results. It leads one to rethink personal principles and to begin to give them a truer and more universal basis. It’s an experience that causes a great growth in responsibility.
Having dealt with so many young people, what advice would you give to students? And to professors?
Normally I prefer not to give advice. I think that it’s more respectful to give people advice only when they have asked for it. In that case the circumstances are more concrete, which allows for a more pertinent response.
In any case, so as not to disappoint and without contradicting what I’ve just said, I would suggest the following: learn to listen in order to know better one’s peers and friends. Only in this way is it possible to dialogue, showing a true interest for the other that permits establishing a solid relationship of friendship. St. Josemaría Escrivá, who was a man of the Univerity with great gifts and who will never stop encouraging Univ’s activities, often summarized true friendship in this way: “True charity, more than in giving, consists in understanding.”
I think that young people, and particularly university students, are seeking something grand for which it’s really worthwhile to commit oneself. Perhaps the problem is that no one provides them with “governing ideas”: ideas that above all one must investigate and only afterwards begin to talk about.
In your opinion what are the main challenges for the University today?
In the first place, that of maintaing the role that it has had for the last nine centuries. Today this role must be expanded to include within the spirit of the University the characteristics of the great cultural, scientific, technological, and social transformations. And above all this spirit must lead people to discover their ability to know what is true with a proper respect for freedom. So that this might actually come about, it is necessary that the university vocation encounters new souls disposed to incarnate it, and that they find true guides that are really capable of passing on to them a spirit of service to society.
What do you think has been the result in your life of having dedicated so much time to university students?
It has kept me in touch with the problems of young people. It has also helped me to stay young.